The Grange Bitton

The Grange Bitton: postcard: early 20thC

A listed building since 1953, The Grange Bitton has endured many internal and external architectural changes since the clergy occupied the original 12th century site.

The structure, including a Norman inner building c1250, was converted to a hall and house in the Middle Ages. Parts were remodelled or rebuilt in Tudor times and again during the 17th/18th centuries. In the mid 1700’s a new wing of limestone and slate was added and two of the ground floor rooms were panelled and converted to one living space.

Above one door was found a plaster panel depicting part of the Seymour family crest, small evidence of a family which had an unsettled history at the Grange from the Reformation until 1770.

The Grange, Source:BRO

According to Ellacombe’s, “The History of the Parish of Bitton”, Sir John Seymour of Frampton Cotterell became possessor of the Parsonage and estate of Bitton c1568. The beginning of a long Seymour – Bitton connection. Sir John, who died in 1663, has a monument in Bitton Church. His grandson Lt. Colonel John Seymour, born in Bitton 1649, became the governor of Maryland, where he died in 1709. According to the Ellacombe’s family tree of the Seymours, Colonel John had married twice. Firstly, Margaret Bowles and then Hester, daughter of Sir John Newton of Barrs Court.

Berkeley Seymour, son of John and Hester, is described in a tragic episode in the Seymour family.
It is thought that Thomas, son of Sir John Seymour of Wolf (Wulff) Hall, Wiltshire, had obtained the Grange by a bribe involving the Abbot of Westminster. Thomas had married the widow of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, but fell into disrepute, tried and executed for treason. Jane, his sister, was Henry VIII’s third wife and mother of his son, the future Edward VI. Sadly she died soon after childbirth.

Family scandal followed the Seymours at the Grange into the 18th century, when in 1742 the family were in financial difficulties and Berkeley Seymour sold some of his family’s oxen in Bristol. His brother William saw an opportunity. One version of the story is that he followed and murdered Berkeley stealing the money. Fleeing towards Gloucester he stopped to have his horse fitted with new shoes. Unfortunately for William one of the coins he used to pay for the new shoes was marked or holed and recognised as part of Berkeley’s purse. William was arrested, tried and hanged at Gloucester Jail and his body returned to Bitton for burial.

The Panoramic Painting

Attributed to a Colonel Seymour, the panoramic painting on wood in St Mary’s depicts nearby Church Road (at that time named Court Road), including cottages and farm. Referring to Ellacome’s The History of the Parish of Bitton, Bridget Hetzel has investigated which Seymour was the artist of the c1690 painting.
A Colonel Seymour is spoken of by Horace Walpole as a noted painter in the reign of Queen Anne (this Seymour was in America at this time) and is thought to be the artist of other pictures at the Rectory House. Although some dates could be queried in the Ellacombe records, Bridget thinks the c1690 date seems about right, when studying the dress of people painted in the foreground of the painting. Also, the churchyard has not yet been extended onto the common land.
Bridget adds that if Colonel John Seymour was the artist, then 1690 was just a few years before he left for America.
Based on research by Bridget Hetzel

Some of The Grange Residents 

John Wood the Younger, architect of Bath Assembly Rooms, Kelston Park and The Royal Crescent Bath, lived as a boarder at The Grange during the mid 1700’s and is thought to have made design changes to his temporary home. His choice to live in Bitton may have been through family connections in the village or links with his father’s interests in the Kennet & Avon Canal Co. and its developing work in the area.

Paper Manufacturing family Sommerville employed many local villagers at The Bitton Mill and in the early 1890’s The Grange became the home of William Sommerville (1836-1906), wife Marriane and children. Son, Frederick Avenel Sommerville, was to have a distinguished naval career reaching the rank of Vice Admiral. His brothers and sisters included Eleanor, Beatrice, Francis Evelyn and William.

Vice Admiral Frederick Sommerville

Retired bank manager from London Herbert Edward Bradley, his wife Elizabeth Ann, three sons and two daughters are registered living at the Grange at the time of the 1911 census.
A few members of the Bradley household in 1911, other than Herbert and his wife, were children William Picton Bradley and Margaret Dewinton Bradley. Household staff included: Housemaid Edith Workman; cook Elizabeth Thomas; and groom Arthur Shergold. Interestingly none of the family or staff were listed as being born in the area. Herbert passed away at Bitton in 1922 and Elizabeth died in 1937. A poem written by Elizabeth is shown below.

The Grange as a School

The fascinating prospectus for The Grange School, Church Road Bitton, reflects and perhaps bluntly states the aims of its proprietor, historian Clement P. Ketchley, in preparing older boys, from various walks of life, for careers in the outside world. Perhaps a reflection on education at the time is that science was only taught on request.

As an historian, CP Ketchley had written articles on various subjects including Bitton and the Seymours. He later lived in the Little Dower House in Church Road and was listed as a Scholastic Agent and Private Tutor.

While Clement Ketchley lived at the Dower House during the late 1930’s, The Grange was occupied by a retired Lt Colonel Henry Brown (b 1890) and his wife Majorie. Henry had served in the Royal Tank Regiment.

Ted Clothier remembers both Mrs Oke, who worked with C P Ketchley while living at the Grange, and Francis Evelyn Sommerville were frequent visitors to his grandmother’s (Eliza Short) cottage and every springtime, after Frances Evelyn had moved to Bath, Eliza continued the friendship, sending her some fresh pansies.

The fascinating story of the Grange is not only a history of the building but just as much of its occupants. From the 12th century clergy, a family closely connected to royalty, an architect of renown, a papermill owner and major employer, a retired bank manager, a schoolmaster, to a retired army officer.

Peter Davies